Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design


The use of graphic novels in the classroom, particularly the English, Literature, and Writing classroom, is an ongoing and developing trend, particularly at the college/university level.

This is not without pushback, however, there is “good” or relevant pushback and there is just “poor” pushback.

A good, recent example of “poor” pushback emerged recently from Crafton Hills College in California. Apparently, and “According to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper, Tara Shultz and her parents object to Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last ManVol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage” (Williams). What is odd about this is that there argument is not a strong one as tall. In fact, when one takes into account the professor of the classes response, this becomes a bit clearer. Bartlett responded to an email via the Redlands Daily Facts and provided his reasoning:

“I chose several highly acclaimed, award-winning graphic novels in my English 250 course not because they are purportedly racy but because each speaks to the struggles of the human condition. As Faulkner states, ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.’ The same may be said about reading literature. The characters in the chosen graphic novels are all struggling with issues of morality, self discovery, heartbreak, etc. The course in question has also been supported by the faculty, administration and approved by the board.” (Williams)

When one considers Shultz’s response to Bartlett’s, it appears that something does not match up here. Williams article points out that Shultz’s side and reasoning, noting that she

…is working towards an Associate of Arts in English at the public community college, signed up for English 250: Fiction because it fulfills one part of her degree requirements. She was apparently aware that the specific focus of the class was graphic novels, but she told the newspaper that “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Shultz says that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett, who has taught the course for three terms without any other complaints, failed to adequately warn students about the books’ content. Her father Greg Shultz said that “if they (had) put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” Tara Shultz agreed, saying that Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.” (Williams)

However, this is not the whole story. Not only may some, including myself, find her statement “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography” a profound display of ignorance, but apparently, her real aim was a “blow off” class. Consider this information to help clarify:

Of course, Shultz and her parents did have complete information about which books would be covered in the class–the school requires instructors (p. 20) to distribute a detailed syllabus on the first day of the term–and ample time to withdraw with no effect on her grade. Fourteen other courses offered at Crafton Hills fulfill the same degree requirement as English 250. The college’s online calendar shows that the Spring semester began on January 12, and the last date to drop a course with no grade penalty was January 30. Shultz apparently brought up her objections to four out of ten books covered in the class after that date, when her only options were to complete the assigned work or withdraw with a 0. (Williams)

So, what about this, what is the point? Well, the point is that Shultz demonstrated a poor ability to argue. If she wanted to convince me or anyone (truly) that those graphic novels in the course were “pornography” or “trash” she should have perhaps made a more informed, nuance, and critically thought out approach. So, I want my students to do something better. I want them to make better arguments. So, this is where I make my move.

I want to have my students approach this and make an argument for/against the inclusion of graphic novels in the classroom. Are they pornography or trash? Are they literature? I want to let them make a case and argue it in an “informed, nuance, and critically thought out” manner.

To this end I am attempting to build up a potential “reading” list of sorts to help guide students to a wide selection of graphic novels, with synopsis and disclaimers, to help them engage with the material with guidance.

My attempt is to implement this in a composition 2 classroom in order to facilitate real, critical and argumentative debate on the topic.

Works Cited

Williams, Maren. “College Student Wants Four Graphic Novels ‘Eradicated from the System.”

CBLDF.org. Comic Book League Defense Fund. 13 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.

Revision of the Fundamentals 2.0

So, last time, in preparation for really digging in deep and making Prospectus 3.0 be “the one,” I attempted to simplify and streamline the 4 basic elements: Research Question, Research Claim, Research Evidence, and Research Warrant. Interestingly, a lot of this is like a bit of archeology, going over an area, picking at it, digging more, and then finally pulling something out, deciphering it, and then communicating it to others.

If you don’t like that metaphor, then you can always fall back on the one I am using for my prospectus (which kind of ties in…it involves metaphysical “dirt”) of putting together and revising blueprints for constructing my “house” (dissertation).

Either way, what we had from last time (the previous post: Revision of the Fundamentals: Question, Claim, Evidence and Warrant) has undertaken more revision.

The idea of “identification” remains involved in the dissertation, but has become more of an inert or built in premise (unspoken to a degree) and the focus aim now attempts to level out a Research Question that can be more specifically answered.

Research Question

So, previously, we were here:

What is it about Superman that makes that particular character so culturally rich and interwoven with American culture that alterations and reinterpretations of him are met with major and dramatic reactions?

Unfortunately, upon reflection, this turned out to be a bit TOO abstract. It became a tough one to really be able to prove in fact.

Revising then, we come to this:

What aspects of Superman allow the character to function rhetorically as a model?

Now, we are reeling this in, tightening up the rhetorical focus that is what lies at the heart of this dissertation. In addition, we now have a question, which through research, can be made or attempted to be made answer to it.

Research Claim


Here is where we left off last time

Through a rhetorical analysis of Superman’s 75-year evolution, we can see a significant dialogic relationship with American culture that has provided, and continues to provide, a symbolic language for cultural cooperation that continues to both affirm and sometimes challenge the shape of perception of the character and what he represents.

Now, here, this turned out fairly well, but it remained clunky and a bit jumbled, not fully drawn out yet. So, with the new aspects of a new focused Research Question, there was a bit of making over to do here as well.

Although he began as simple wish fulfillment, through a rhetorical analysis of Superman’s 75-year evolution, we can see a significant, dialogic relationship with American culture that allows Superman to function as a model of American excellence. This model sometimes challenges the shape of perception of the character and sometimes affirms it. As a model, Superman operates as a secular, iconic image that symbolically affirms cultural cooperation.


Taking note here one can see that good bits and pieces of the previous claim were kept, moved, shifted, and repositioned to fit within this new focus and direction.

Research Evidence

Okay, so now that we have the question and the claim, where do we go to find the evidence, the proof to back up the claim in order to answer the question?

The old approach doesn’t quite fit as well anymore, and is a bit bulky:

By rhetorically examining the changes Superman underwent during the major periods of comic book superheroes – The Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern, and, I would argue a new, Post-Modern – a pattern of evolution and adaptation emerges that reveals how Superman not only has operated to illustrate the presence desired by his writers and artists as part of the shift in the culture around him, but has been and continues to identifiably represent values that are at the core of what America desires to be and project to the world at large whether or not those “values” are what is known.

Evidence of Superman as a model is where we have to go looking, to find that is the aim. The approach I am leaning towards is one that attempts to examine Superman throughout the preconceived “ages” of comic book history in the 20th – 21st centuries. So, I want to keep parts of the evidence above, but fine-tune it.

There are two major things we need to prove or look for: 1) Superman as a model and 2) as inducing cultural cooperation in audiences.

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca envisioned it in The New Rhetoric the idea of the “model” as “In the realm of conduct, particular behavior may serve, not only to establish or illustrate a general rule, but also to incite to an action inspired by it” (362). What actions then does Superman inspire in others, via conduct or inspired action? Superman, throughout his history has operated on many different levels and many different functions, mediums, or applications (usually determined by those who wrote for and/or publishers of Superman, as well as the events of American society) of generating selected cooperation among American youth who have read Superman comics.

The New Rhetoric goes on to say that “Persons or groups whose prestige confers added value on their acts may be used as models. The value attaching to the person, which is previously recognized, is the premise from which will be drawn the conclusion encouraging some particular behavior” (363). Superman has served to promote many things. At the tail end of the Great Depression, Superman offered an escape by depicting a hero who stood up for the common man against those who oppressed them, whether corrupt politician or businessman. In WWII, he told Americans to “Slap a Jap” and fought on the home front to fight off saboteurs and raise the morale for the men fighting abroad. Through constant transformations, re-launches, and adaptation, Superman has been shaped by many writers/artists/editors/publishers to assert American values and exceptionalism of what is right and good about humanity.

This “exceptionalism” can and has been a double-edged sword for Superman though – hence Superman’s role as one who affirms and sometimes challenges the notions of these ideas.

There is a passage in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that quite aptly points to one of the challenges that has presented itself as Superman’s most challenging – his identity, what he is. The character of Mr. Wednesday makes the statement that “This is the only country [America] in the world…that worries about what it is…The rest of them [countries of the world] know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.” (116).

It is this notion, this true notion about America, of its amalgamation and cross-working nature that lies at the heart of any question about “who or what is Superman?”

Evidence of Superman’s role as a model – throughout the major comic books periods –can be found in the ways that he has defined and helped redefined what American excellence, identity is about. Superman represents a concrete construction; a bringing together a multitude of abstract ideas and values that make up America. Superman as a model both embodies and challenges the ideas of what America is while constantly providing a model for what it means to do the right thing, to fight for truth and justice, and when they are aligned, the American way as well. It is this essence of Superman that makes him identifiable and allows him to draw together, in cultural cooperation, the diversity and multiplicity that has created America.


Okay, let us try on this cape, let us go out in the sun, and see if it flies.

Research Warrant

Now we have to ask the critical questions: So What? Who Cares? Why is it important that we attempt or even bother to answer the Research Question that we have posed?

In order to address these, questions, let us start with the old assertion/assumption:

Superman is not merely an American cultural icon but has become a projection of what America aspires to be and projects that image to the world at large in an identifiable message.

Not quite there, a bit of the “so what?” but not really a “who cares?”


Superman is an American cultural icon who projects the very best of what America is all about to the world around us. Through studying Superman, we can reach a point of greater understanding about the history of America and the values, ideas, and ideals that have made America great.


Okay now, wow, that was longer than I expected. Let us see where this one goes – down the rabbit hole…again.